Allen (an excerpt)
On the first wood gathering of autumn,
in forest that was once cornfield,
slopes so rocky instead of wagons
sleds were used, my father and I
find the remains of a split-rail
fence his grandfather set a century ago.
American chestnut, brittle, stiff,
resistant to rot — fine kindling
now, to start spark beneath
the red oak we will split today.
Soon the garden will be blackened,
the ponds too iced for geese,
home forgather around the flame
we insure this afternoon.
The stature of the chestnuts
he holds in my father’s memory.
Allen towered with them, rooted
like Antaeus, fell soon after
those giants dwindled and left
across Appalachia their stubborn stumps.
What does a man like a chestnut tree
leave behind? My middle
and my family names. A white oak
maul, handle smooth with use.
Froe-split shingles to keep the cold
rains off. Scars in the sides
of sugar maples, scattered fence
rails. And a grandson who shows
his son how to split fallen oak
with maul and wedge, how to carve
elderberry twigs into sugar-water spiles.
How to love mountains fiercer
than any marriage….